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Maine Democrats Plan to Introduce New Medicaid Expansion Bill
09/17/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Majority Democrats in the Maine Legislature today vowed to introduce a bill next year to expand the state's Medicaid program. The announcement came as a response to Gov. Paul LePage, who this week cited a study to support his refusal to allow expansion of the program under the federal Affordable Care Act. Democratic leaders say increasing health care options for poor Mainers under Medicaid will ultimately reduce state costs. But LePage maintains that taxpayers will carry the burden of added Medicaid expenses, and the program still won't be able to serve those most in need. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Maine Democrats Plan to Introduce New Medicaid Exp
Originally Aired: 9/17/2013 5:30 PM

Gov. LePage says expanding Medicaid would help mostly younger men, smokers and heavy drinkers at the expense of the elderly and the disabled. But Maine House Speaker Mark Eves says the governor is wrong. Eves says the governor is simply looking for political cover at a time when increasing numbers of Mainers are demanding policies that provide more health care - not less.

"For months, he made one excuse after another to deny and delay healthcare to Maine people - now he is feeling the heat," said Eves, who was joined by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Anne Haskell during a State House press conference.

Both legislative leaders pledged to introduce another bill next year that would expand healthcare coverage - especially to the 25,000 Mainers who will lose their benefits on Jan. 1 as the result of action taken by the governor. Although an expansion bill was supported earlier this year by Republicans, many of those lawmakers switched their votes to support LePage after he vetoed the bill in June.

Eves says the state is projected to save nearly $700 million from the new proposed expansion, and that the bill would cover nearly 70,000 Maine people over the course of a decade. And Eves says Maine is one of 10 states that would see Medicaid expenditures go down over 10 years if the expansion is approved.

"Poll after poll shows that Maine people support expanding Medicaid, and many are angry that Republican lawmakers didn't stand up to LePage to support critical health care," said Eves. "Maine people understand that increasing access to programs like Medicaid and Medicare means more Maine families can afford to go see a doctor when they are sick."

And Eves says the expansion of Medicaid would add financial stability to the state's hospitals, which would receive millions in additional funding. Eves says at a time when every healthcare dollar counts, Maine can hardly afford to say no to federal help.

"Maine will lose out on $700,000 per day - that's $500 a minute and that adds up to be $256 million a year," Eves said. "The hospitals have the most to gain out of anybody out of this."

"Those are exactly the same arguments that they made a decade ago when they talked about Medicaid expansion back then," says House Republican Leader Ken Fredette. "There would be less charity care, we would cover more people. None of those arguments proved out to be accurate."

House Republican Leader Ken Fredette says Republicans will stand their ground in opposition to Medicaid expansion. He says Maine already exceeds the national average in the percent of its residents receiving Medicaid services, and that the state simply cannot afford to cover its share of future costs under expansion.

The Department of Health and Human Services has projected those future costs at more than $300 million dollars over a three-year period. And Fredette challenges the claim by Democrats that Mainers support expanded healthcare services for young, childless adults.

"I think that when you talk to people on the street, people are really upset," Fredette says. "When they actually do go into Wal-Mart or they go into Hannaford Brothers, they see these young people that are able-bodied people. They've got their carts full of food and what not, and they're going through and paying for that with government dollars. You know, people see it every day."

Gov. LePage also weighed in on the Democrats' renewed efforts to expand Medicaid, saying that party leaders were "trying to buy votes by promising something they can't deliver."


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